Saturday, 20 August 2011

Auntie Seraphic & Stopping Someone Else from Sex

This was one of those emails that made me ponder the usefulness of being a married lady. Married ladies can talk about sex as if they know something about it without anyone thinking, "Hey! How come she knows so much?"

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

A not-especially-close friend of mine recently asked for my help in coming back to the faith. She was raised Catholic, but hasn't been practicing recently. Now she wants to return to the Church, and I'm excited for her.

The problem is that she has been dating an agnostic for about three years, and they are sexually active (although I hate using that phrase). She recognizes that coming back to the Church would mean not having sex with her boyfriend any more, which I think is a good first step. The problem is that she, as a recent revert, is struggling with how to explain to him their need to stop; she isn't too familiar with Catholic teachings on these sorts of things. In the meantime, he doesn't seem to perceive any problem with the situation, and wants to continue sleeping with her. Apparently, he has also said that he wants to marry her someday, and I think this is making it harder for her to stop.

My question is twofold: how should I approach the topic with her, and are there any good resources to which I could direct her?

Thank you!

Sincerely yours,

Reversion Resource Guide

Dear Reversion Resource Guide,

I'm going radically revise my initial reponse to be even less dismissive of the agnostic boyfriend. Somehow my teenage-era horror of agnostic boyfriends who talk their girlfriends into having sex with them clouded the sun of my middle-aged married lady charity. Men who enjoy having consensual sex with their girlfriends of three years are not actually the scum of the earth. They are just ordinary guys. A guy who tries to go out and bed a new woman every night is doing it for a cheap and nasty thrill. A guy who cuddles up to the same woman for three years is doing it to feel loved and to express love. So I'm going to rewrite my response to take into consideration that Mr Agnostic is most likely not a douche bag but a guy who loves his girlfriend and will feel really hurt if she turns off the sex tap.

Okay, it's nice that this girl wishes to become a more authentic Catholic. Although her serious sins have cut her off from Grace, she never really left the Church, of course, unless she publicly repudiated her. I don't quite understand why she needs your help, however. Are there no priests around? She needs to talk to a priest.

She needs to talk to a priest because a priest is going to understand a lot more about where she and her boyfriend are coming from than a Nice Catholic Girl who thinks the first step to becoming a better Catholic is to stop having sex. Yes, pre-marital sex is pretty bad. It is a serious sin. But Christianity does not begin and end with sexual purity but with the Blessed Trinity. Christianity is not a set of rules but a relationship with Almighty God in His three Persons. Christianity is a relationship with God in light of His revelatory Incarnation, Mission, Death and Resurrection. Frankly, I'd start with prayer. Does she pray? Does she read Scripture? Does she think about, read about and talk to Jesus of Nazareth?

The problem isn't that this girl is having sex. The problem is that this girl is having sex with someone to whom she isn't married. The solution to the problem has absolutely nothing to do with you. The solution is for her to say to her boyfriend, "Look. I believe in and love Almighty God, and Almighty God wants me to be fully committed to the man with whom I share my bed. It's time we got married, baby."

This may very well surprise Mr. Agnostic Boyfriend if your acquaintance has hitherto shown absolutely no reluctance in the past three years to sleep with him outside of marriage. And Mr. Agnostic Boyfriend, upon hearing that his girlfriend wishes now to become a better Catholic, might be afraid that this means she wants to dump him. She should assure him that she doesn't want to dump him, she just wants to please Almighty God.

Of course--and forgive me for my cynicism here--it may be that she is bored with her boyfriend and wants an excuse to stop sleeping with him. If this is so, you need to be so far from the situation, you will be in another zip code entirely.

This girl didn't write to me. You did. And, therefore, you are my first concern. You sound like a very nice girl, and I know very well that it is thrilling and flattering to feel like the Holy Spirit is using you to bring about the salvation of another. However, I suspect (and this is in no way shameful, really, considering your age and state in life) that you don't understand how sexual relationships between men and women work. You don't seem to understand that even very nice (if disobedient-to-God) women like to have sex and aren't just tricked into it (especially after the first year) by vague promises of marriage.

It is absolutely impossible for you to convince another woman not to have sex when she wants to have sex. Three years of sex is a hard habit to break, and frankly, only falling in love with another man (or simply falling out of love with this one) is likely to make this girl break it. That man may very well be Our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, it should be. If she does love her boyfriend, only knowing and loving Our Lord better than she does now will make her choose His will over her current set-up.

One of the most important things we were told in ministry school was that, when we were out of our depth,we acknowledge it and refer our friend/client/sheep (whoever)to someone better informed. When an undergrad under my care told me of his/her Sister Faustina-like visions, I sent him/her straight to a famous priest-professor of spiritual direction.

In your case, unless you do have an understanding of what it means to be in a long-term sexually active relationship (which I doubt), I think you are out of your depth. Think of the best, smartest priest you know and suggest your friend and her boyfriend talk to him.

Yes, the boyfriend. He, too, has an immortal soul. He is not just the potential roadblock to the reversion of your non-practising Catholic pal. He is a real person with feelings and a soul Christ died to save.

If you include the boyfriend in your suggestions, and she recoils, that may mean that she doesn't want to include him in her journey and a growing relationship with Christ and, therefore, that she doesn't love him anymore. And if this is the case, once again you need to distance yourself from a seriously toxic situation that has nothing to do with you. If she doesn't love the man, she should dump him. If she loves him and he is otherwise a man of character, then she should marry him. End of story.

End of THEIR story. It's not your story. Say "Why don't you get married?", maybe give the girl a copy of "Mulieris Dignitatem" and something on marriage, refer her to a good priest and pray for her. But for heaven's sake do not get involved in the psychodrama of Her and Him and God.

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,


theobromophile said...

In the meantime, he doesn't seem to perceive any problem with the situation, and wants to continue sleeping with her. Apparently, he has also said that he wants to marry her someday, and I think this is making it harder for her to stop.

Without casting aspersions on anyone present, I will say this: it should make it easier for her to stop. If he does want to marry her "someday" (are you all in college, or old enough so that dating for three years means that a ring should be in sight?), then he won't be put off by her saying 'I just don't feel right about this; my faith is so important to me and I don't like being cut in two.'

That said, here's my take on this, from someone who has spent more than her share of dating time in the modern world, so to speak: advise her to ask him, bluntly, what will change if they marry. Maybe the solution isn't to stop having sex; maybe it's for him to make an honest woman out of her (so to speak). The other side is that if he has vague thoughts about marrying her, and, with no bad intentions, doesn't really want to, such a conversation will force things into the open.

She might not get her answer immediately (and frankly, he should have to think about it); obviously, the answer isn't "Let's move in together and see if it works." But he may well never marry her, even if he loves her and thinks that he will, and it's not that he's being malicious. Men can be (bless their hearts) wary of matrimony and find it easy to coast along indefinitely in a healthy relationship without either marrying her or breaking up with her because he doesn't want to.

There are some pointed questions that she needs to ask him, IMHO, not as someone who wants to stop having premarital sex but is very much in love, but as a woman very much in love with her boyfriend of three years who doesn't have a pretty diamond on her left hand. That the answers to those questions will probably clarify her position is an ancillary benefit.

Multum Incola said...

Grand advice from Auntie Seraphic there.

Emma said...

Spot on Seraphic.

Jim said...

You know, despite all the statements about guys just wanting sex without commitment, there are guys, a lot of them, that sleep with their girlfriends because they are in love with them, not just seeking physical gratification. If they have been together for three years, plus he is not a Christian so doesn't know any differently, that is quite possibly the case here. The last thing she should do is just dump him. If he loves her, he very likely would be devastated by that and that kind of pain can last for a lifetime. I would hate to think that that "she is bored with her boyfriend and wants an excuse to stop sleeping with him." Especially for someone to use the Church as an excuse to do that would be unbelievably cruel. I agree the solution is for them to get married, and I agree with your analysis, Auntie Seraphic.

kozz said...

Wise advice as always, Aunty Seraphic

Eowyn said...

Oh, you are smart. Smart and wise.

Christy from fountains of home said...

Best thing I've read all day!
Great as usual!

Thwarted Throne said...

He may well be "a guy who loves his girlfriend and will feel really hurt if she turns off the sex tap." I suspect that doing the right thing here will necessarily involve hurt feelings. If the Saints and the tradition of the Church are anything, anything at all to go by, this woman may well go to Hell if she continues sleeping with her boyfriend. She should be very kindly informed of this possibility, and be scared into quitting. The idea that she'll only stop if she is given the grace of perfect contrition ("loving Our Lord") will be a self-fulfilling prophecy if no one feels it is their place to let her know the terrifying reality. Perfect contrition may be as rare as it is noble; fear is an easier, quicker and perfectly good way of getting to the necessary contrition and change of life.

Seraphic said...

Ah, my old friend filial fear.

I don't think this situation must necessarily lead to hurt feelings. If the man loves this woman and is of good character, and if she loves him, then marriage is the likely solution.

When I was a teenager, chastity speakers thought the easiest way to make us be chaste was to scare the living hell out of us. I'm not convinced it works as well for adults, particularly adults who have many friends who are otherwise good and moral people having sex relations outside of marriage.

You will find in the "Summa Theologiae" that Thomas Aquinas rules that filial fear (which is love of God) is vastly superior to servile fear (which is fear of hell).

Another problem with the fear-based approach is that it encourages a selfish attitude. Although it is wrong to have sex with one's unmarried lover of three years, it is also wrong to act as though his hurt feelings do not matter.

At the heart of the matter is, "WHY is it such a serious sin to have sex with ANY person one is not married to? WHY has God declared it wrong?" And any chastity pamphlet trots out the various hypotheses. Is it a sin against Charity or Temperance? I think it is also a sin against Justice.

If this woman is using Catholicism as an excuse to bring about a break with a boyfriend who has served his purpose, then she is committing another serious sin.

(Imagine the Catholic man who casts off his agnostic girlfriend of three years, hoping eventually to marry a pure young virgin...)

Of course, I have no reason to suppose she is doing this--except that instead of going to speak to a priest and make a formal confession or ask for his spiritual advice, she roped in another laywoman.

Thwarted Throne said...

So grown women can be scared of additives in their food, of getting cancer, of dying alone; they can be scared into quitting smoking, getting a professional degree instead of an MA, and getting RRSPs; but they can't be scared into giving up mortal sin? Doesn't sound quite right to me.

In any case, if the couple do decide to get married, there will be the inevitable waiting period which will entail abstaining from you-know-what. This will be painful. Moreover, the sacrament of Matrimony, unlike Baptism, does not wash away mortal sin. Depending on their region, they may get a good priest who will dwell on the necessity of contrition; on the other hand, they may get a laissez-faire, cynical, squeamish, or - Heaven forfend - a liberal priest, in which case a few kindly-phrased but objective words from a friend may be of infinite value.

Tara said...

I don't think being scared into doing something is right. The most devoted, alive and beautiful followers of Christ are those who deeply love him. I think there is, and ought to be, a fear of God, but that fear is (as Seraphic said in a previous comment) very different from the fear of Hell.

Off the top of my head, I can think of half a dozen verses that speak against fear.

1 John 4:18
John 14:27
Romans 8:15
2 Timothy 1:7
Luke 12:7
Isaiah 41:10

I believe the overwhelming message in the Bible is against fear. Fear, as a tool, ought not to belong to us as followers of Christ.

I think Seraphic's advice is spot-on.